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Truro doctor provides the facts on ticks and Lyme disease

Blacklegged ticks, at different stages of feeding.
Blacklegged ticks, at different stages of feeding. - Submitted

TRURO, N.S. – Although Colchester County is now considered a high-risk area for Lyme disease, there’s still a low level of risk if people are careful, says Dr. Ryan Sommers.

Sommers, medical officer of health for the northern zone, stressed the benefits of getting outside and being active outweigh the small risk of contracting Lyme disease through a tick bite.

“For a tick to adequately transfer the bacteria to a host it takes a considerable amount of time; you need at least 24 hours,” he told Truro Town Council at a recent meeting. “If you have a tick on you, get it off right away and you’ll be safe.”

To protect themselves, people can wear light colours, tuck their shirts into their pants, and pantlegs into their socks, use repellents with DEET or icaridin, and put their outdoor clothing in a hot wash or dryer when they come in. Permethrin-treated clothing can also help repel ticks, but bodies should always be checked after people have been doing things outdoors.

If a tick is found it should be removed by holding it close to its head with tweezers, and pulling with even direct pressure.

The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is spread only by black-legged ticks. They spread it to humans when they are in the larva and nymph stages. Larvae travel on birds and small rodents, while nymphs attach themselves to larger rodents and mammals the size of cats and dogs. Adult ticks attach themselves to larger animals like deer and moose.

“People are concerned that the deer are bringing Lyme disease,” said Sommers. “Deer do have a role in spreading adult ticks, but they’re not the reservoir. They’re not the mammal that really hosts the infection. It’s the smaller animals.”

He stated that “large efforts to control Mother Nature” don’t result in lower number of tick attachment and cases of Lyme disease.

Most cases of Lyme disease in the northern zone have been in Pictou County, although Guysborough County and Cape Breton are the only areas not considered high risk now.

“So, why is this happening?” said Sommers. “Climate change is the biggest reason.

“We know that ticks love moist humid areas and we have a number of those types of habitats in our province. They love leaf litter.”

The spread of ticks and Lyme disease is showing the same pattern in parts of the U.S. that have a similar environment.

During the late 1990s, a vaccine for Lyme disease was available.

“It was proven to be safe and effective,” said Sommers. “It was withdrawn by the manufacturer, in 2002, for a number of reasons.

“There were some claims, that were never proven, that the vaccine was not safe, and was actually causing Lyme disease. There were a number of lawsuits initiated so the company basically said the economic case wasn’t there to go forward with this vaccine, and decided not to continue with it.”

He said there has been some talk about possibly brining the vaccine back.

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